#CBR4 Maneuver #32 – Deadhouse Gates
Profile: Epic Fantasy
Summary: Taken from the Malazan Wikia, “In the vast dominion of Seven Cities, in the Holy Desert Raraku, the seer Sha’ik gathers an army around her in preparation for the long-prophesied uprising named the Whirlwind. Unprecedented in its size and savagery, it will embroil in one of the bloodiest conflicts it has ever known: a maelstrom of fanaticism and bloodlust that will shape destinies and give birth to legends…
In the Otataral mines, Felisin, youngest daughter of the disgraced House of Paran, dreams of revenge against the sister who sentenced her to a life of slavery. Escape leads her to Raraku, where her soul will be reborn and her future made clear. The now-outlawed Bridgeburners, Fiddler and the assassin Kalam, have vowed to return the once god-possessed Apsalar to her homeland, and to confront and kill the Empress Laseen, but events will overtake them too. Meanwhile, Coltaine, the charismatic commander of the Malaz 7th Army, will lead his battered, war-weary troops in a last, valiant running battle to save the lives of thirty thousand refugees and, in so doing, secure an illustrious place in the Empire’s checkered history. And into this blighted land come two ancient wanderers, Mappo and his half-Jaghut companion Icarium, bearers of a devastating secret that threatens to break free of its chains…”
After Action Report:
Steven Erikson’s second entry in the Malazan Book of the Fallen is a much better novel than its predecessor, Gardens of the Moon. The characters are more interesting, the plots less confusing and the ending sequence is done with such panache that it’s hard to find fault with it, even if you don’t like the outcome. Part of the improvement comes from the slow process of learning all of Erikson’s terminology, but Erikson has also tightened his storytelling style. He also simplified things by killing off a staggering number of principle characters.
Deadhouse Gates picks up almost directly where Gardens left off. In the wake of the Ascendant Confluence on the continent of Genabackis, members of the Bridgeburners start making their way back to the Empire, but get sidetracked along the way by the threat of rebellion in the Seven Cities region. In spite of this setup, the core protagonist is probably Duiker, a military historian attached to the Malaz 7th, who experiences the rebellion first hand and crafts a poignant tale of an army desperately defending the Malazan refugees from the overwhelming forces of the Whirlwind Armies. While Duiker’s story is probably the least critical to the overall shape of the series, it is the strongest narrative line of the books so far, and the most emotionally invested.
It is interesting to note that much of the Malazan world has a Middle East vibe to it, from the merchant city of Darujhistan, to the North African feel of the Seven Cities region and its Raraku Desert. The rise of the Whirlwind has many similarities to early Islamic jihads. There has also been a strong emphasis on the power of the primitive, with various tribal mystics and leaders proving to be far more effective than the best trained mages or commanders. These tropes give the series a very different feel than some of the more traditional epic fantasy series, which in turn, contributes to the success of the individual books.
Unfortunately, any further discussion of the plot would fall clearly under the category of spoilers. As it is, even the summary of the book spoils a few things, particularly given Erikson’s apparent predilection towards character killing. Despite its strong showing as a standalone novel, Deadhouse features two or three major storylines that link backwards and forwards in the series. One in particular, that of Felisin and Heboric Light Touch, is so critical to the shape of the fourth novel, House of Chains, that it nearly warrants calling Deadhouse a transitional novel. You could even go so far as to say that the entire point of Duiker’s story is to set up a confrontation between Felisin and her sister, despite the fact that neither of those characters ever meet Duiker, or any member of the Malaz 7th for that matter.
Moving away from that topic before I give anything else away, one facet of Erikson’s epic that has not improved is the volume of terminology he subjects the reader to. Some things have become clearer with more reading, but others, like the exact nature and functionality of the magical Warrens, are still painfully obscure. The number of place-names has increased this time around, with dozens of cities, port towns and geographical areas to confuse or delight. I should note that I am reading these books on my e-reader, and the interface isn’t exactly optimized to allow me to flip between my current page, the glossary in the back of the book and the maps in the front. I really can’t recommend the experience. Fortunately, the Malazan Wikia has proved to be an ample, if somewhat spoiler-filled, resource.
As I stated in my review of Gardens of the Moon, the Malazan Book of the Fallen requires a minimum commitment of about two books. Between Gardens and Deadhouse, I think readers will get a pretty good sense of the shape of the series and will be able to make a decision about reading the rest of the 10 book sequence. Either way, Deadhouse is an exceptional fantasy novel in its own right, and well worth the effort needed to get past Erikson’s linguistic barriers to entry.